First sentences – according to John Irving

According to John Irving: “I may one day write a better first sentence to a novel than that of A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I doubt it. I have a feeling for first sentences, and I’ve written some pretty good ones.”

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

What makes the first sentence of A Prayer for Owen Meany such a good one, according to the author, is that “the whole novel is contained in it”.

The art of writing first sentences according to John Irving…

1. “The primary function of a first sentence is to make you keep reading.”

2. “I never write the first sentence until I know all the important things that happen in the story, especially – and I mean exactly – what happens at the end of the novel.”

3. “The reader is informed that a grisly accident is about to happen; few readers will look away from grisly accidents.” [Irving on the first sentence of The Fourth Hand].


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